Days Out – The National Gallery

Despite living in London we don’t always take advantage of what is on our doorstep so during the Christmas holidays we decided to do a couple of trips into town.  I sometimes take both boys into town on my own which is usually fine but with one in a pram and the other roaming free the rose tinted ideal of jaunts around galleries and attractions doesn’t always live up to it in reality.

The last time I took Master ATWWAH to a gallery was when he was under two years old and we went to the Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern with a friend, Miss F, and her very well behaved and manageable younger baby.  Master ATWWAH could walk so I put his pram in the cloakroom and thought he’d hold my hand and be entertained by the bright pop art.  Miss F and I had worked on the launch of a TV channel together and its brand identity was all pop art inspired, surely he would want to hear our amusing tales of creative differences in meetings and brand positioning??  Hmm.  He darted off at the first opportunity and then when he did stand in my vicinity he managed to grab at a security barrier which he pulled back like a piece of elastic, let it go and it hit the wall with a thwack, thankfully missing the art.

So, it was with some trepidation that we headed to The National Gallery.  It has been ages since I’ve been around Trafalgar Square.  I knew they had got rid of the pigeons and pedestrianised it but it just felt a whole lot more touristy and a bit Covent Garden, but not in a good way. Where once tourists challenged themselves to how many pigeons they could bear to have on their head and shoulders there were now those living statues of Yoda waiting for someone to put money in their guitar case, there were Mickey and Minnie costume characters dancing to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme tune and protestors protesting about I’m not quite sure what.

Once inside The National Gallery though you felt proud again to live in London.  It’s an amazing building and obviously houses centuries worth of art.  It was busy but not to the point of being impossible to see anything.  And we were the annoying family who didn’t just have an opinionated three year old but also a pram with a six month old.  The pram didn’t seem to get in the way too much though and Mini ATWWAH was asleep when we arrived.

I’ve always liked going to galleries but only really last for about thirty minutes before I get a bit bored and distracted so Master ATWWAH’s art commentary was quite entertaining, a bit like Sister Wendy but in a Star Wars tshirt.  There is currently an exhibition on by Peder Balke, a Norwegian artist who liked a seascape (no, I hadn’t heard of him either) Master ATWWAH likes the sea and boats so we received a commentary on each painting ‘ooh, there is a lighthouse in that one like on Seal Island’ or ‘it’s very wavy there’

After a few too many choppy sea paintings we moved on.  Mr ATWWAH came into his own regaling Master ATWWAH with some tales around the paintings.  When we saw this one of Charles I we were given a lecture about the Roundheads and the Cavaliers and informed that Charles I had his head chopped off.  Lovely.  Apparently a three year old can handle this information as they do it on Horrible Histories, I did point out that Master ATWWAH doesn’t watch Horrible Histories as it is too old for him.


Equestrian portrait of Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck

Master ATWWAH’s definite favourite though was a painting he recognised from a Nick Junior content filler where two kids go to The National Gallery and jump into a painting.  He recognised it straight away shouting about how it was from Nick Junior and showing my great parenting qualities as the mum who uses Nick Junior as a way to keep the peace.  It is a great painting though and Wallykazam is educational.

Rousseau painting

Surprised by Henri Rousseau

Once Mini ATWWAH woke up we headed to the café.  Unsurprisingly for a London gallery it wasn’t the cheapest but it was in a nice room with lots to look at and the sandwiches and cake we had were tasty.

The great thing about The National Gallery is its location.  Ignoring the tourist gimmicks we wandered around Trafalgar Square and admired the fountains and Nelson’s Column and then instead of going straight back to Charing Cross and the northern line we decided to walk down the Mall and through St James’s Park via Buckingham Palace and towards Victoria for the train.  A slightly longer walk than we anticipated which meant Master ATWWAH was on the shoulders of Mr ATWWAH for some of it.

I’d definitely go to The National Gallery with the kids again as there is lots to see although some of it may be a bit dry for them.  I picked up a leaflet on the way out though and discovered they have Family Sundays running up to 26 April which are completely free.

There are art activities for children aged 5-11 with sessions running from 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm with artists who teach different techniques and story activities for children aged 2-5 from 10.30am-11am and 11.30am-12noon involving a magic carpet which lands in front of a different painting each week.  More details are here along with school holiday activities.

If you are looking for more days out inspiration you may like these:

Rides and hands on fun at LEGOLAND Windsor

See London from a different perspective on the Emirates Airline


  1. I’d never really thought of the National Gallery as an option with toddlers but the weekend activities sound lovely – and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to make the most of London…

    • It was surprisingly good. The weekend activities sound great too. I’m the same about getting out more in London, we take it for granted and don’t do the ‘touristy’ things enough.

  2. Have always loved the National Gallery and think it’s brilliant for kids – especially if you have the “Katie” books by David Mayhew and can search out some of the paintings they will recognise!

    • Thanks for the ‘Katie’ books suggestion, we don’t have those so I’ll find some, they sound great.

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